What Are Peptides? What To Know About This Anti-aging Ingredient

Find out more about peptides and different skincare products that have these amino acids.

What Are Peptides?

Peptides are short chains of amino acids that are the building blocks of proteins, according to the National Human Genome Research Institute. In cosmetic products (or skin-care products), peptides can mimic the protein sequences in collagen and elastin and stimulate production, said Geeta Yadav, MD, a dermatologist and founder of Facet Dermatology.

These are the proteins that keep skin looking youthful. "Many peptides are small enough to penetrate the skin," said Blair Murphy-Rose, MD, a dermatologist at the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York and clinical instructor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College. Since they're small and able to penetrate the skin, they're able to have a more profound impact than skin-care formulas that contain larger molecules that simply sit on the skin's surface.

Photograph by Peter Ardito

What Do Peptides Do?

"In skin care, peptides are best known for stimulating skin repair and inhibiting the signs of aging," explained Dr. Yadav. According to this 2020 study from the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, the use of peptides for two weeks reduced the appearance of aging skin on the face and neck of the participants.

Peptides generally work by increasing the production of collagen and elastin, according to this review from 2012 in Experimental Dermatology. Peptides also support a healthy skin barrier and promote the healing of wounds; some even have a mild Botox-like effect that will relax muscles and treat fine lines, Dr. Murphy-Rose added.

How Do You Use Peptides?

Lots of anti-aging formulas are packed with peptides. The best thing about them is that they play well with active ingredients, said Gloria Lu and Victoria Fu, skin-care chemists and co-founders of Chemist Confessions, Inc. You'll see them paired with vitamin C and hyaluronic acid.

Vitamin C can slow aging, prevent sun damage, and improve the appearance of wrinkles, according to Harvard Health. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant, which means that it can fight off any pollution that comes into contact with your skin. As for hyaluronic acid, it provides hydration to the outer layer of the skin, according to Harvard Health.

It's most important to use products that have long-lasting contact on the skin—they give the peptides enough time to go to work, said Dr. Murphy-Rose. So opt for serums and moisturizers as opposed to cleansers.

If you want to give peptides a try, here are some products that you can add to your routine to reduce those fine lines and appearance of aging skin.

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Neutrogena Rapid Firming Peptide Multi Action Eye Cream

Courtesy of Merchants

This eye cream from Neutrogena is a wake-up call for tired eyes. It is a lightweight formula that targets dark circles while also reducing puffiness. It's made to smooth the delicate area around the eye through hydration.

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Aurelia the Probiotic Concentrate

Courtesy of Merchants

Aurelia London's probiotic peptide complex—derived from milk extract—will transform your skin and help to kick-start collagen and hyaluronic acid production for smoother, more hydrated skin.

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Thrive Causemetics Timeless Ambition Power 7-Peptide Firming Moisturizer

Courtesy of Merchants

This easily absorbed gel cream moisturizer will instantly soften your skin. Plus it offers long-term plumping, a boost of hydration, and increased elasticity thanks to peptides and ceramides.

Ceramides are compounds that are in the epidermal layer of the skin. They play an important role in the function of the skin barrier, according to this review from 2014 in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

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